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Why Could Paul Not Minister in Asia?

Posted by Matt Postiff February 12, 2019 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Bible Texts 

There is a fascinating little passage in Acts 16:6-10 that mentions the Spirit of God prohibiting Paul and his team from ministering the gospel in certain areas. Prior to this, Paul and Silas had been visiting churches planted during their first missionary tour though southern Asia Minor. They were joined by Timothy as they ministered in Derbe, Lystra, and surrounding cities. The team then wished to head west toward what was known as Asia (the region where Ephesus is), but the text says the Holy Spirit forbade them from going there. Then they turned their sights northeast toward Bithynia, but the Spirit also prevented them from going there.

So the question posted to me was this: why not minister in those locations? The people there needed Christ just as much as the others, right? The prohibition/lack of permission doesn't seem in accord with the Great Commission, which directs believers to preach the gospel to every nation.

The fact is that the text does does not tell us. So, was it:

  • not the right time?
  • too dangerous?
  • like the Lord's command to the 12 not to minister in Samaria or in Gentile places, but only to Israelites (Matthew 10:5)?
  • less urgent than something else?

Since the text doesn't tell us explicitly, we need not speculate further. But the text does tell us that there was an urgent need in another place. That was made known via special revelation (a dream/vision). The team concluded that the Lord was using the vision to guide them to cross over into Europe and preach the gospel there. We know from later in the chapter that a business-woman and a corrections official needed to hear the gospel and be saved. A church had to be started in that place, the city of Philippi. A slave girl who was being trafficked because of her demon possession had to be rescued from her oppressors. The Lord was readying the people there and was about to open their hearts to the message of Christ.

As I read the passage again this morning, I pondered the notion that in ministry, timing is important. This doesn't mean we are in a rush, but sometimes the "iron is hot" and work needs to be done about it. Sometimes there are people who are in a needy state "right now" and need our attention. For those needs, the time is now.

It also illustrates a point that life and ministry is not something that is always going to present open doors. This should not discourage us. We must keep on going, and pressing into new areas and new directions, and we must stay keen about the circumstances and facts of what is going on around us. Since we don't have special revelation today, we must rely on godly wisdom gained from Scripture, and godly counsel from others who have gained such wisdom, so that we can ascertain which direction to move.

There is another entire question, and that is how did the Spirit communicate this prohibition to Paul and the missionary team? It seems to be special revelation, but did it have a providential component as well? We will leave that for another post sometime.

Listen to the sermon where I covered this passage.

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